No one jellies jams

Some days living your dreams is really hard.  Some days they feel a bit more like nightmares.  Some days you wonder why you ever wanted to pursue them in the first place.  Some days you love where you live and what you do.  Some days, these days are the same.  Today was one of these days for me.

This month has been tough.  I’m pretty worn out emotionally right now. I’ve been feeling pretty sick the past few days.  Saturday night I got a fever.  I spent most of Sunday in my bed, in too much pain to move.  Eventually, I mustered up the strength to go downstairs and watch television.  Monday was better.  I only stayed in bed till noon.  I got up, got ready for the day, ate lunch.  I had planned to go grocery shopping but at that point I was too worn out from all the getting ready, so I took a nap.  Today I was feeling well enough that I felt like I should go to class.

My language teacher and I planned to meet this week in her neighborhood so I could practice talking to other people.  So I set out to class- a drive that should take 20-30 minutes of there isn’t traffic.  But there was traffic.  I was stuck in my car for two hours on the way there.  It was hot, so hot my phone eventually shut down because of the heat.  I thought I might throw up (you know because I’ve been sick and I thought it might be a good idea to eat breakfast).  I was listening the “Ribs” by Lorde some of the lyrics are “This dream isn’t feeling sweet.  We’re reeling through the midnight streets.  And I’ve never felt more alone.  Feels so scary getting old.”  In that moment, I felt so incredibly miserable and alone.  I wished I had someone, anyone, to sit there in traffic with me, to make a joke, to talk to, to complain to.  I didn’t though and I started crying.  I didn’t cry much.  But still, today I sat in my swelteringly hot car listening to Lorde with tears running down my cheeks.  I thought about turning around and just going home.  Today was definitely one of those why-on-earth-did-I-move-to-Africa days.  Today, pursuing my dreams seemed like a terrible decision.

I reminded myself that while being stuck in traffic in a car so hot you feel beads of sweat forming all over you is not fun, it also doesn’t last forever.  I reminded myself that I was looking forward to using my language outside of the classroom.  I reminded myself that after class I would get to go home.  I reminded myself that even though I was feeling lonely that I do have friends.

But then I got to my destination.  I parked outside the shop that my old teacher owns and caught her up on some of the details of my life.  I went to the home of my current teacher.  She served tea and we spoke in the language I’m learning with one of her cousins.  Then I went shopping with her to get some groceries.  We walked a long way to the shops where the salespeople would speak the language I’m learning.  We laughed and chattered in a language that I still have to think a lot about but that is starting to come more and more easily.  We made our usual inside jokes and in these moments I was so very happy that I moved to Kenya.  In these moments I felt brave, not weak and alone.  I loved the surprised looks of the people we passed when they realized that I was speaking an African language and not English.  I even loved laughing about the woman who thought that I was going to pay 100 shillings for an onion when they cost much less.  I laughed because I knew better than to pay that much and knowing made me feel like I belong more than people think I do at first glance.  My teacher laughed at how many people shouted things like “muzungu” (white person) at me.  She said all of those men were being stupid and we laughed some more.

We walked back to her place so I could rest a bit before starting the drive home.  We talked about the traffic and how terrible it was.  We were speaking a mix of English and the new language- we often do this when we are making jokes.  Then I said “no one jellies jams” which if you translate some of that into the language I’m learning means “no one likes traffic.”  We started laughing about what it would sound like if someone who just knew English heard us talking.  We gained a new joke today.  I got to see some more of what daily life looks like for my friends.  Today, living my dreams was astoundingly difficult, and yet, so good.  I’m glad I didn’t turn around and go home before I got to the good part.

Much love,

Hannah

Almost Arrested

Some days in Nairobi are more exciting than others.  Saturday was one of those exciting days.  Mary, the executive director of my organization, was in town and we went to visit some of my friends on the other side of town.  Traffic was terrible, as per usual, so we spent an exhausting and hot hour driving to my friend’s place dodging pedestrians shopping, hand carts with all kinds of wares, huge trucks, and animals.  On the way in, we went down the main road in the neighborhood that houses the market.  About half the road was taken up by people buying and selling anything from mattresses to clothes.  (Please note: the description of traffic alone could be an entire post.  I wish that I could post pictures but it’s not wise.)

We had a great time talking and drinking tea.  I was glad Mary was able to see the area where I work and to meet some of the women I’m closest to.

After a while, it was time to head back home.  We set out taking a less busy side road than the one we took into the neighborhood.  On the side of the road where busses typically pull in to drop off and pick up passengers there were many police officers.  I saw one waving but just kept going pretending I didn’t see him.  I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong and often foreigners will be targeted to get bribe money.  The police officers in this particular part of town have an especially bad reputation for being corrupt.  Also, they didn’t have guns or cars and as some of my friends here say, “No gun, no car, no stop.” But there was another one waving at us too and my friend Biko who was riding with Mary and me asked if they were waving for us.  I said “yes” and begrudgingly pulled over.

The police officer came up the the passenger side window and starting yelling at us to give identification.  As a foreigner, you are technically supposed to carry your passport on you to prove you have a valid visa.  However, it’s not really safe to carry your passport particularly with the increased threat of theft in the neighborhood we were in.  I had my driver’s license, but Mary didn’t have any id at all.  The police officer yelled at us saying that we were breaking the law and that we needed to carry id at all times.  He threatened to arrest us and Mary in particular because she didn’t have any form of identification.  After yelling a bit, the officer walked over to Biko’s window and talked to him in Kiswahili.  Mary and I waited nervously during the exchange.

Finally, the officer came to my window and said that he was fining us 6000 shillings (about $60).  That is a huge bribe.  Normally officers ask for less.  I calmly told him that I would not give him 6000 shillings.  He asked me how much money I had.  I calmly but firmly reminded him that he is not supposed to take money from people– that that isn’t how the justice system works.   To my surprise it worked!  He just let us go.  I don’t know if I would recommend just telling a Kenyan police officer “no” like that, but I was so thankful that not only were we not arrested, we also didn’t have to pay a bribe!